Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Mount Washington resident questions mountain biking research

Mount Washington resident Wes Munzel doesn't buy the research presented in a June report on mountain biking in Cincinnati parks.

Munzel has sent an e-mail to Mayor Mark Mallory, City Manager Milton Dohoney, and all nine members of City Council refuting some of the arguments presented by Cincinnati Parks Director Willie Carden Jr., who recommended that the City forego the creation of mountain bike trails in its parks due to environmental damage, high maintenance costs, and illegal activity.

"Based on full disclosure of the information, it is debatable and unclear as to whether a mountain biking trail is more or less of an impact on our environment – and thus mountain biking should not be dismissed as a recreation opportunity in Cincinnati," Munzel says. "Both hiking and mountain biking create negative impacts. Thus, it becomes an issue of priorities, what the vision of our city is and finding collaborative solutions regarding this issue."

Munzel, an urban planner who has been mountain biking recreationally for 20 years, recently took his two young sons to the beginner trail at East Fork State Park.

"We traveled about 40 miles round trip by car to get there and as a result of driving, emitted a lot of carbon emissions," he says. "If we had an opportunity to do mountain biking in Cincinnati – maybe at Stanbery Park or Armleder Park – we would have had a four mile drive or maybe we would be able to ride our bikes to the park and avoid driving altogether."

Eroding the argument

Carden cited 23 sources in his report, some of which Munzel studied himself. He says that the research he's seen shows a much different picture than that presented by Carden.

"At first glance, Parks' report conveys the impression that mountain biking is an activity that is much worse than hiking from an environmental standpoint and is unsupportable from a financial standpoint due to potential trail maintenance and vandalism costs," he says. "In fact, the studies show that on downhill and flat sections, walking and feet are clearly more detrimental to the environment than bike wheels."

Many of the City's hiking trails utilize 4-by-4 wood pieces along their edges to control erosion.

"This same technique could be used on mountain bike trails," Munzel says.

Behavioral issues

Carden's report also said that mountain bike trails lead to the creation of additional "illegal" trails, vandalism, and other illegal activity.

Munzel cites "Erosive Behaviors of Mountain Bicyclists", a study by the University of California at San Diego.

"This study suggests that if illegal mountain bike trails is an issue, then methods to curb illegal trails should be sought and that if bikers were included in the process, they would have less incentive to create illegal trails," he says.

He also believes that vandals can be a problem anywhere, if given the opportunity.

"To claim that mountain biking trails are more susceptible to vandalism than hiking trails is questionable," Munzel says. "There are several bridges on the Stanbery Park hiking trail that were damaged by vandals several years ago."

These are all behavioral issues that can be resolved, he says.

"Enforcement is an issue with any regulation," Munzel says. "If we follow Parks' philosophy we should prohibit dogs from the parks and trails because dog owners let their dogs run loose and scare other people by potentially biting people or scaring the wildlife."


"I would suggest that mountain biking be allowed in city parks at a policy level, and that CORA (Cincinnati Off Road Alliance) and IMBA (International Mountain Bicycling Association) standards are used to design a trail in collaboration with Parks," Munzel says. "Then CORA volunteers would build the trail."

In addition to being a progressive and healthy idea, the construction of City trails would be a great return on investment, he says.

"Funding for a maintenance fund could be identified or prioritized by decision makers or, if public dollars are not available, then private fundraising might be an option," Munzel says. "This fundraising could occur while the trail is being designed. Maintenance parameters and riding rules could be outlined."

The trails could even be part of a larger experience.

"The vision I have would be to create an outdoor recreation node with a mountain biking trailhead, zip lines, maybe even create a man-made stream of water for kayaking," Munzel says. "This would create a destination and attract others to our city."

What is Parks' 'message'?

Munzel says that the broader question to be asked is: What kind of a city is Cincinnati as far as recreation opportunities.

"Is it a progressive city, is it a creative city and is it a city that is seeking to be flexible or seeking solutions in its recreation offerings or is it an old-school, stuck in the past, avoiding new opportunities type of city?" he asks. "If the city is progressive and seeking ways to enhance the reasons to live in Cincinnati, then additional exploration and collaboration in designing and building a mountain biking trail should be pursued."

His hope is that council sees the situation differently and chooses not to follow Carden's recommendations.

"If the city were open to exploring the idea, then the management and implementation issues could be solved or biased perceptions could be shifted," he says.

First photo through Creative Commons license: "Mountain-bike-jump" by Andy Armstrong (CC-BY-SA-2.5). Second and third photos courtesy of Flickr, Creative Commons license: "Mountain Bike The Kaiteriteri Mountain Bike Park, Motueka, New Zealand" by TRAILSOURCE.COM (CC-BY-2.0), "Carron Valley Mountain Biking" by Peter Macdonald Photo (CC-BY-ND-2.0).

Previous reading on BC:
Mountain biking not coming to Cincinnati parks (6/15/10)
New parking facilities required to provide bicycle parking (5/24/10)
Metro, TANK to offer free rides on Bike to Work Day (5/11/10)
Bike Month begins, hopes to change local bicycle culture (5/3/10)
Region's first bike 'corral' opens in Northside (4/27/10)